Newswise — MAYWOOD, IL – It will be an especially emotional moment when Rachel Sweet walks across the stage during the June 2 graduation ceremony at Lincoln-Way West High School.
Rachel has cystic fibrosis, and during her first three years at the New Lenox high school, she was home sick or in the hospital at least half the time. She ended her junior year with a double-lung transplant at Loyola University Medical Center.Through extraordinary discipline and determination, Rachel has managed to graduate on time with the rest of her class – earning As and Bs and winning a Lincoln-Way Foundation Scholarship.
“I’m probably going to be crying like a baby,” said her mother, Sue Sweet. “Rachel has come such a long way and we’re so proud of her. It’s going to be an unbelievable experience.”
Cystic fibrosis causes thick fluid to form in the lungs and other organs. As Rachel grew up, breathing became increasingly difficult. Going to the mall was no fun because just walking from the parking lot left her out of breath and exhausted. Rachel had little appetite, and despite supplemental tube feeding, her weight dropped to 85 pounds.
Rachel frequently was at home or hospitalized with various complications of cystic fibrosis. A tutor came two hours a day, three days a week. Except for Algebra II and Trigonometry, which she had to retake, Rachel managed to keep up with all her classwork.
“I’m proud that I am able to graduate with my friends,” she said.
Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, performed a successful double-lung transplant on March 15, 2014. The transplant has enabled Rachel to enjoy her senior year in good health and do the stuff kids normally do. She can walk around the mall or in the park with her friends without getting exhausted. She has a driver’s license and a job at a candy shop, and she went to the senior prom. Her weight is up to 120 pounds. She’s planning to go to Joliet Junior College to study business.
Lung transplantation requires lifelong follow-up care and monitoring. Rachel is under the care of Loyola pulmonologist Erin Lowery, MD, and other Loyola physicians and nurses.
Rachel’s dad, Jim Sweet, said that before her transplant, Rachel couldn’t keep up with her parents. “Now, we can’t keep up with her.”
Mr. Sweet said that he, too, is sure to get emotional when Rachel graduates. “I know I’m going to get goosebumps.”
Loyola has the oldest and largest lung transplant program in Illinois. Loyola has performed more than 800 lung transplants, by far the most of any center in the state. Loyola’s multidisciplinary lung transplantation team provides patient-centered care and individualized treatment plans. The team includes surgeons, anesthesiologists, pulmonologists, transplant nurse coordinators, nurse practitioners, procurement nurses, chaplains, perfusionists, physical therapists, dietitians, financial coordinators, psychologists, clinical pharmacists, social workers, support groups and home-care nurses.
“Her entire team is exceptional,” Mr. Sweet said.